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(DV) Hosseini: What Condi Rice Has in Store for Iran







What Condi Rice Has in Store for Iran
by Mehdi Hosseini
February 23, 2006

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has informed a Senate panel that the Bush administration plans to be spending $75m (on top of the $10m in 2006 budget) to “reach out to Iranian people and support their calls for freedom.” Of this amount, $50m is to be spent on radio and satellite TV transmissions into Iran. The rest of it on things like “expanding Internet access,” supporting “political dissidents,” sponsoring “labor unions and political organization,” granting fellowships and scholarships to Iranian students “who have never experienced democracy,” etc. She added that "the United States will actively confront the policies of this Iranian regime," but the $75m package is intended to "support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom in their own country." She went on to say that she thinks “the solidarity model is a good one”, that when “people organize themselves and really become unified in calling for change, then you get the change you need”, and -- lest we forget she is a concert pianist -- that she had “read that it is forbidden in some quarters to play Beethoven and Mozart in Tehran,” so she hopes that Iranians can one day “play it in New York or Los Angeles.”  

In examining Ms. Rice’s proposal, once we get past the lack of important details (most notably, lack of any explicit reference to Iranian organizations with which the US government is establishing relations, the fact that most of these groups are outside Iran and do not enjoy significant support inside Iran, and that some of these groups are on the US government's list of terrorist organizations), and after we observe that much of the information in the proposal is as usual not intended to be taken literally (for example, the claim of support for labor unions and solidarity of the masses or the presumption that there is an Iranian “call for freedom” directed at the Bush administration), we ask the following questions: where does this proposal fit in the administration’s strategy with respect to Iran, and how serious is Ms. Rice in her declared expectation that answering this “call for freedom” through spending money on radio and TV transmissions or supporting some unidentified Iranian organizations will somehow make the masses of Iranians rise up against the current government?  

Looking back to the periods leading to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, one can recall that the links between Iran and the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and the relationship between Iran and the Shi’a institutions and communities in Iraq were well within common public discourse. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the administration was aware that overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq would strengthen the position of Iran’s government in the region. It is also sensible to believe that the administration realized that surrounding Iran with American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq would further stimulate Iran in its quest to assert its power and significance in the Middle East. So, it stands to reason that the administration has had some type of a plan to deal with Iran at least since the preparations for the Afghanistan war began. Taking into account the record of US foreign policy in the last few decades would tell us that the possibilities for a country like Iran, a country which is significantly inferior to the US in its military and economic might but is of strategic importance to US interest, are limited to the following: (1) support US policies with some consistency or (2) become a target of overt and covert confrontation. Iran’s post-1979 conflicts with the US and the current awareness that Iran's influence in Afghanistan and Iraq and within the larger Shi’a communities in various Arab countries can drive the region toward scenarios that may not easily submit to US policies and dominance in the Middle East renders possibility (1) highly unlikely (even if the power structure in Iran, in the interest of the regime’s survival, moves to tone down president Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric). Therefore, we can say with some confidence -- as much as it is possible to be confident in matters that do not lend themselves to precise methods of inquiry -- that possibility (2) is the likely scenario, and that a plan for some kind of confrontation with Iran is and has been, at least since late 2001, within the overall strategy of the administration.  

One cannot predict exactly how the administration’s plan will play out (we should not be surprised if some of the $75m is given to individuals and organizations with dubious pasts and objectives or if we find out that there is a massive covert and violent operation for which the $75m plan serves as a mere distraction). What we can predict is that the Bush administration plan for “the cause of freedom in Iran” will have little to do with bringing Iranians to play in New York concert halls. And we can be sure that the details of that plan will not be presented to a Senate panel.  

Mehdi Hosseini writes for The Third Script.

Note: The statements in quotes have been extracted from two sources: the
transcript of Rice’s opening remarks and the State Department’s official statement in support of Rice’s proposal.